Optimism in a Falling World- Numbers 23:19, Isaiah 55:8-9

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

COMMENTARY

God is not a man, that he should lie; hath he said, and shall he not do it?
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. My ways are higher than your ways

Sometimes a friend might ask me to join a cause and I don’t have faith in it. Usually this is because I can see flaws in the design, or I question his motives, or because even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. We are imperfect humans, and many of the plans we conceive of are complete folly, unworthy of trust and faith from others.
And sometimes I think we take the skepticism we have for the plans of men, and we bring it into our view of God’s plans as well. We hear bold claims in the gospel like how Jesus came to save the entire world (John 3:16, John 12:46-47) and it sound incredible. We are invited to be a part of that work and are told that by small and simple things we may have a tremendous effect in this world (Alma 37:6-7) and it sounds impossible.
We hear such tremendous, sweeping claims and we struggle to believe in them because we are so acquainted with tremendous, sweeping claims ending in utter failure. It goes against all the ways of this world to trust in a plan that is so grand. But of course, when we hold this skepticism it means we are viewing God and His capabilities as being the same as that of man. And as today’s verses firmly attest “God is not a man.” The same limitations do not apply to Him, nor to us when we act in His cause.

Optimism in a Falling World- Moroni 7:40-42

And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.

COMMENTARY

How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? If a man have faith he must needs have hope
In my previous post I spoke of the need for faith, and how it is to be exercised before we even see the path to success. Faith is not founded upon knowledge. As these verses suggest, it is founded upon hope. For while we may not know how good will triumph over evil and a lost soul will be saved, to act in faith we must hope that these things can and will happen. God does not unveil to us His master plan, but He often does show us a corner of it, enough so that we can have hope in the rest.

And what is it that ye shall hope for? Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal
And as with my last post, our hope is not meant to be founded upon anything earthly or mortal. Frankly what makes us believe in the salvation of mankind is not what we see in mankind, only what we see in God.
This verse speaks of having hope in the atonement and the resurrection, in being brought from this fallen state to one of eternal life. And first of all we are meant to have that hope of reclamation for ourselves. Then, when we feel the reality of it, we are meant to have that hope for all our fellow man as well. For if I was once able to be so lost, yet was found, then these others are not beyond hope either.

Optimism in a Falling World- Ether 12:4, 6, 12

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

COMMENTARY

Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works
Today I am considering the role of faith in remaining committed to our fallen world. And the first point I want to make is what we have to found our faith in. It is not a trust in humanity that these verses call “an anchor” to our souls, it is a belief in God. Throughout this study I have been speaking about maintaining our hope and faith in the world, but now I realize that those are secondary things, symptoms that come from first being rooted in our trust for God. See how this verse lays out the order of things as “believe in God” and then have a “surety of hope for a better world.”
Thus if you find it impossible to view the world optimistically, perhaps stop trying to do so. Instead cultivate your trust in God and the rest will follow. We will stop being motivated not by a shaky trust in the triumph of man, but in a sure trust in the triumph of God.

Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
If there be no faith God can do no miracle; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

And if, when we view the world, we see nothing to convince us that it can be saved, so be it. For faith is things that are hoped for and not seen. We would not say that we had faith in the reclamation of mankind if we could already see the path by which it would be accomplished. The whole point of faith is that we can invest ourselves towards the saving of humanity, with our minds unable to fathom how good will come out of it, but with our hearts believing that it will. That is working by faith, and as this verse explains that is the prerequisite to the miracle.

Optimism in a Falling World- Jonah 4:1-3

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

COMMENTARY

In my last post I considered the people of Nineveh, whom God had been preparing to destroy, but then He spared them when they ended up repenting of their sins and returned back to Him.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
And he said, Was not this my saying, when in my country? Therefore I fled: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
And Jonah couldn’t stand it! This is the first point in the story where it is explained why Jonah initially ran from the city of Nineveh. The natural assumption would be that he was afraid of the people, nervous that they would murder him for pronouncing doom upon them. But it turns out this wasn’t his concern at all. What he was afraid of was that God would show the people mercy!
Jonah wanted those people to die! He didn’t want to warn them about it and give them a chance to repent. He wanted them to stay wicked so that they would die.

Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live
Jonah is a miserable being. Throughout the rest of the book God patiently tries to get through to him, but we never do find out what became of the man in the end.
But my reason for bringing him up is because he is far from the only person to desire vengeance on the world. There are many who are excited to see our falling world burn. And I am not referring to people outside of religion, either. I have heard members of many churches who, like Jonah, were gleefully looking forward to the world getting what it deserved, intending to gloat over the suffering of the wicked.
Such may be surprised when the fiery brimstone falls from heaven and it is centered on their own home!

Optimism in a Falling World- Jonah 3:4-5, 10

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

COMMENTARY

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not

The exact sins of Nineveh are not detailed in the account of Jonah, but evidently they were of such significance that God was prepared to destroy the entire city! When we consider the example of other cities that received such a divine retribution, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, then it seems safe to say that the wickedness in Nineveh must have been extremely pronounced!
Yet for as fallen as the people might have been, it turns out that they were not beyond reclamation. After all, why send a prophet to them, even with a message of doom, unless there yet remained some hope that that doom might be averted?
From this story I learn to look at the sort of people I might consider to be a lost cause, and I realize that they are actually far from it! Truly there are places of deep evil today, and I am sure there are individuals who are ripe for destruction, but these are most definitely the minority. By and large, people are still basically good, still within the reach of hope. There are many who are waylaid, but that are the same sort that Jesus vouched for with the words “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And instead of trying to push these confused souls towards their destruction, we should be inviting them back to the fold.

Optimism in a Falling World- Alma 17:12-14

And it came to pass that the hearts of the sons of Mosiah, and also those who were with them, took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites to declare unto them the word of God.
And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken.
And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.

COMMENTARY

The sons of Mosiah took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites to declare unto them the word of God.
And they had undertaken to preach the word to a wild and a hardened and ferocious people; who delighted in murdering and robbing and plundering.

It is remarkable to me what sort of people it was the sons of Mosiah chose to take their missionary efforts to. One would think they would look for a people that were already mostly in harmony with the gospel and preach to them, that way they would expect to have greater success, let alone a greater chance of survival!
But no, they went to the most corrupted people that they could, the people who hated them, the people that were furthest away from God. Of course Jesus’s disciples did much the same when they carried the gospel to the gentile nations, even to the same country that had carried out the execution of their master! They walked straight into the lion’s den, somehow expecting to accomplish good there.
And, remarkably, both the Nephites and early Christian missionaries absolutely did accomplish some good. Though they had trials, they also had great success. Because, as those early missionaries seemed to have understood, the people who are furthest from God are also the people who need God the most!

Optimism in a Falling World- Luke 6:32-35

For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

COMMENTARY

If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
If ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again.

At times I have looked at the people around me and said “I don’t think it would be worth investing in this community. I’m only here temporarily. I could give my all to this place, but nothing lasting would come of it, so why try?” At other times I have tried…just once. I’ve invited my neighbors over for dinner, engaged them in some small talk, and if things took off we became friends…but if not, then I’d be polite, I’d smile and wave from across the street, but we would never become anything more than “acquaintances.”
Why would I try to have a relationship with someone if that relationship was not beneficial to me? Why would I engage with someone if there wasn’t something about them that was interesting or pleasant to me about them? What would be the point?

But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
Well thank goodness God doesn’t feel the same way! There isn’t a whole lot of value He can get out of His association with us either. Yet He spreads love to children that will never be able to pay Him back for the investment. He spreads love to children that don’t ever acknowledge what He does for them. He spreads His love to children that even label themselves as His enemies! He gives all of them breath and life and beautiful sunsets and depth of emotion and the offer of His peace.
God does not limit His love to the places that return a profit and neither should we. We should not decide our relationships based simply on what they can do for us. For even if this world was falling apart and beyond all reclamation, it would still be worthy for us to pour our love into it. For even if doing so did not have the desired effect on the world, it would still have the desired effect on us.

The Epic Life- Summary

Many of these studies have begun when I feel myself caught between two competing ideas, each of which seems worthy, and each of which I suspect is correct in its own sphere. In this case I was caught between my desires to live a life that is grand and purposeful, and the sense that I should be content with the simpler things of life.
On the one hand I didn’t want to fall into complacency by never striving for something greater. On the other hand I didn’t want to fall into vanity by overlooking the good I already had. As is often the case I found a happy medium between two extremes. Because yes, it is possible to have inappropriate cravings and it is also possible to have inappropriate passivity, but there is also a quiet passion in between.
Here are a few of the main points I learned from this study. They highlight the common pitfalls that lay on either side of that middle path, and what we can expect to find by following that strait and narrow road instead.

The Good Life

First and foremost I learned that God expects us to live with passion. God expects us to be doers. He wants us to accomplish many good things in this life, to be an active and essential piece in His plan. After all, are we not all called to join the body of Christ? And is not the body of Christ a vehicle for doing? Does it not have a mission to reach out and save the entire world? And how is the body to accomplish this, if not by all of its parts surging to the cause?
God loves heroes. He is the inventor of heroes. God raised up Noah to build the ark, Moses to part the Red Sea, Jonah to reclaim the people of Nineveh, Esther to plead for her nation, Samson to fight the Philistines, David to topple a giant, Elijah to call down fire from heaven, Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and His own son to reclaim us from death and sin. And that same son, the greatest hero that the world has ever known, he attested that those “that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12).
If you are here in earth life then you are here for a reason. If you can feel God’s spirit move upon you then it is to move you into action. God has not lost His need for heroes, He has not lost His need for workers in the field, and He has not stopped offering His strength to those that will champion His cause. If you are willing to clean yourself and apply wholeheartedly for a position you will find that He still has a great mission in reserve for you. He has yet another epic tale for your voice to speak.
2 Timothy 1:7- For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Nephi 1:23- Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.

The Counterfeits

Satan always has counterfeits for God’s virtues. Where God is love, Satan is lust. Where God is confidence, Satan is the thirst for control. Where God is joy, Satan is diversion. And certainly Satan has his counterfeits to distract us from the truly epic life as well. In my study and personal experience I have been able to identify at least two of these counterfeits.
The first is the fame of the world. God has given to us an incredible energy that is meant to be spent in our great calling. But if we do not have a great calling to pour our strength and devotion into, then that strength and devotion must go elsewhere, and in many cases it has gone to a shrine of gold and glory. We covet possessions and conveniences, titles and recognition, adoration and attention. We hope to stand as king of the hill for a moment, vainly assuming that if we even managed the feat we would be remembered for it.
Another of Satan’s distractions is in complacency. It is true that there is a place in the gospel for quiet repose, a greatness from doing the small and simple things, a building up of the kingdom just where one stands. But truly doing the small and simple things with any degree of consistency is itself a very challenging undertaking, one that the complacent will never succeed in. Never make the mistake of believing that contentment and humility are the same as complacency and passivity. God might very well invite you to focus your strength locally, but never so locally that it doesn’t escape your own orbit!
Mosiah 12:29- And again he said unto them: If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches? Why do ye commit whoredoms and spend your strength with harlots, yea, and cause this people to commit sin, that the Lord has cause to send me to prophesy against this people, yea, even a great evil against this people?
2 Nephi 28:21- And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

The Cost and Reward of Greatness

Having considered these counterfeits to the truly epic life, it is important to acknowledge that Satan possesses one great advantage. It is that the truly epic life always come at great cost. Frankly none of us fit the gate, in one way or another we are out of shape. Some of us are too proud and must be humbled. Some of us are too passive and must be pushed out of our comfort zone. Some of us are too wounded and must accept healing. Some of us are too guilty and must endure purifying. Perhaps the one constant is that each of us are blocked by the fear of whatever it is God is asking us to do. Fear alone is enough to kill any hero before they are born.
No wonder we are told that “wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat,” while on the other hand “narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
But no matter the ease of the first path, its destination is made perfectly clear: destruction. And no matter how difficult the second, its destination is also made unambiguous: life. There is no convenience worth dying for and there is no cost that life is not worth. It is not an easy way before us. In fact, without grace it is an impossible way, and even with grace it still is just plain hard. But if it were not hard, neither could be it truly great. Nothing of substance comes cheaply.
Doctrine and Covenants 58:28- For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
Luke 14:27- And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

The Epic Life- John 18:37, Exodus 3:10, 14

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

COMMENTARY

To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world
Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
These verses are incredibly stirring. This notion of being called of God, of having an express purpose, a unique role to fulfill, a mission to undertake…these are the things that the heart yearns for! And while Moses took a little convincing to accept his calling, both he and the Savior became incredibly bold in declaring that they were doing what they had been called to do, and no man was going to prevent them in that. Indeed, that is the whole point of what Jesus is saying to Pilate in this first verse: the fact that he is facing the death penalty does not mean he has failed in his mission, rather it is the fulfillment of it. This trial, this crucifixion, this sacrifice…this has all been what he was born to do. “no power here. He’s not the one in charge. He is a pawn, pulled by strings that are pulled by God, all to make this very moment happen (see John 19:10-11).
Once again, isn’t there something exciting in Jesus’ testimony of his own destiny? And the fact that these stories excites something deep within us is significant. That we feel so affected really means something. For if we were not meant to reach for our own great purpose in life, then our soul would not stir at these words. Our hearts testify of what is true by how they respond to it. They race when they come into proximity with ideas that are good and right. These stories of receiving a divine calling are preserved so that they may excite us, and when they excite us we know that we should seek such experiences for ourselves.

The Epic Life- 2 Nephi 1:23, Ecclesiastes 3:20

Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

COMMENTARY

Come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust
All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again
Yesterday I mentioned the desire to rise above mediocrity and live the epic life, a life of great purpose. And today’s first verse captures this notion perfectly. But notice how it is at odds with the second verse I shared, which avows the temporary nature of our mortal life.
These two verses highlight the disparity between our body and our spirit. Though we are from the dust, and destined to return to the dust at the conclusion of our lives, we hope to be able to lift ourselves from it, to emanate a spirit that is more eternal than the stuff that surrounds us.
And clearly this hope for a life that transcends the ordinary is not an evil desire. At the heart of it is the recognition that we are children of an immortal God. This desire for greatness is our own immortal soul testifying of itself, rejecting the more transient things, and calling for the eternities that are its birthright.